Six steps to a positive body image

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a powerful psychological tool that radically changes depressive thinking and low self-esteem by challenging negative thoughts. Use these strategies whenever your body confidence is low


Six steps to a positive body image

Write down any negative thoughts about your body. Now identify the cognitive distortions behind them from the list below. Next, write down a rational thought to replace each negative thought. And remember, this technique has a far more profound effect if you actually write these thoughts down.

The mental filter

This is when we focus on one negative aspect of ourselves, dwelling on it to the exclusion of all else.

  • Example: ‘I won’t be able to enjoy my holiday because my stomach is so fat.'
  • Rationalisation: ‘There are plenty of things about my body that I really like. Why not focus on them instead?’

All-or-nothing thinking

This is the kind of thinking that lays the foundation for perfectionism. If we can’t reach our unrealistic expectations we give up and do nothing at all.

  • Example: ‘If I don’t lose a stone before going on holiday, I might as well forget eating healthily, and start binging again.’
  • Rationalisation: ‘I’m eating well and feel much healthier. There’s no point trying to lose a stone in a fortnight. It’s enough to eat a little more healthily so my energy levels rise before I go away.’

Disqualifying the positive

What happens when we dismiss the positive and automatically discount people’s compliments and positive reactions towards us.

  • Example: ‘He doesn’t really like my body; he’s just pretending.’
  • Rationalisation: ‘He says he likes my body, and has no reason to lie. The simplest explanation is probably the most correct – that he’s actually telling the truth.'

Fortune telling

Without any evidence, we anticipate that something’s going to happen, and then we act and feel as if it had already happened. We’ll also ‘mind-read’, jumping to negative conclusions about what people are thinking about us.

  • Example: ‘When I get on the beach, everyone’s going to look at me and think I’m enormous.’
  • Rationalisation: ‘Actually, no one will be looking at me; they’ll be far too busy thinking about themselves.’

'Should’ statements

When our reality falls short of the very high standards we set for ourselves we can get upset and berate ourselves for not living up to our ideals.

  • Example: ‘I should be ultra-thin for summer.’
  • Rationalisation: ‘There is no real reason I should be so incredibly thin for summer. It’s far more realistic and kinder to myself to want my body to be healthy and active instead.’

Labelling and mislabelling

Instead of describing a situation objectively, we give negative labels to ourselves, which makes us feel worse.

  • Example: ‘I look like a beached whale.’
  • Rationalisation: ‘I’m clearly not a beached whale. That’s a particularly unpleasant thing to call myself, and I wouldn’t dream of saying something like this to anyone else.’

For more CBT techniques, read Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by Dr David Burns.

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